It's somewhat appropriate that fall camp opens to the blue-collar background harmony of jackhammers and construction equipment; our sturdy Golden Bears have a lot of work to do. At long last, the players report tomorrow on 8/5, and practice begins on 8/6.
Coach Jeff Tedford didn't take his first losing season lightly and spent the early part of the off-season making significant changes to his coaching staff.
Out: Marshall!("Offensive" Line), Krazinski(Strength and Conditioning), Daft(Wide Receivers), Simmons (Secondary), Ludwig (Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks, and Marshall!(Yes, I'm so happy about the last one that I listed it twice.)
In: Michalczick(Oline), Blasquez(S&C), Kiseau(Wide Receivers), Ambrose(Secondary), Arroyo(Quarterbacks), and Tedford(Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks)
Because of injury issues for many key positions (Oline, TE, DT, RB), it was an uneven spring camp that left us with more questions than answers. As is typical for a offense featuring new signal callers, the defense had its way more often than not. The biggest news was Coach Tedford's decision to announce Zach Maynard as the clear starter going into summer workouts and fall camp. The rest of our spring recap can be read here.
And we have our spring position by position reviews here:
The position battles in fall camp should look quite different with so many players returning from injury as well as one of the most touted recruiting classes during the Tedford era. Several incoming players are expected to contribute immediately. At the Media Day luncheon, Coach Tedford mentioned that all of the true freshmen went through summer bridge and that there should be no issues academically with having the new players all be eligible for fall camp. A full list of the new class with highlight videos can be found here.
Top Five Issues for the Offense:
5) With Tedford back at the helm, what will the offense look like?
By his own admission, he said "we do need to cut back; less volume and more creativity," and plans to cut the playbook from 150 to 100. (If you haven't read Berkelium97's incredibly detailed report on Tedford's media luncheon comments, you're missing out on a rare instance where the coach really opened up with regards to his offense and coaching staff.)
But what exactly does that mean? And what will it look like? Are we going back to the classic pro-style Tedford offense of the early 2000s, switching exclusively to a spread attack, or some type of hybrid?
Because practices are mostly closed and Tedford will want to keep things close to the vest to avoid tipping off future opponents, we might have to wait until the season opener against Fresno State before we really know for certain.
4) Will the tight-end position become productive again?
Injury issues plagued this position in the spring to the extent where backup QBs were pressed into duty just so certain formations and plays could be run. With Spencer Ladner's availability unknown due to an MCL tear suffered in the spring, we'll have to rely on RS frosh Jacob Wark, converted WR Spencer Hagan, and possibly true frosh Richard Rogers for depth. It's also unknown whether Anthony Miller will bounce back after a decidedly average junior year to fulfill the potential he flashed as a younger player.
3) What will the running back depth chart look like?
Isi Sofele is listed as the starter to the unease of many Bear fans. Although he's the best blocker at this position and the hardest worker, he doesn't have the highlight reel or body of work that we've grown accustomed to seeing in our heir apparents. With Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson, Desarte Yarnway, and Trajuan Briggs recovered from injury, will any of them step up? Will JC newcomer CJ Anderson pick up the offense quickly enough to factor into the equation? Or will one of the talented true frosh, perhaps the incandescent Brendan Bigelow, be healthy enough to contribute immediately?
2) Do we have quarterbacks?
Call me greedy, but I don't think we can satisfied with just determining _a_ starting quarterback. Considering the wear and tear of a Pac-12 season, I think we also need to develop a competent backup. Will Zach Maynard continue to be the man? Can Allen Bridgford elevate his play to challenge for the starter's position? Is Brock Mansion prepared to hold for field goals?
1) Can Coach M work some type of miracle with duct tape and baling wire to create a serviceable Oline?
It doesn't really matter who we line up behind center or in the backfield if the floodgates remain open like they did all too often last year. Returning starters Mitchell Schwartz and Dominic Galas have recovered from off-season shoulder surgery and should bolster the line immediately. But depth remains a huge concern, particularly at tackle now that senior backupSam DeMartinis has decided to retire. If Schwartz or MSG get hurt, are backups Tyler Rigsbee and Bill Tyndall up to the task? Will JC transfer Matt Williams and walk-ons Brian Farley and Zak Beible blueshirt or be pressed into action? In Coach M we trust?
Top 5 Issues for the Defense
5) In Coach Pendergast's 2nd year, will the defense be more consistent?
Tough as nails one week, blown out another. Sure, there were more factors to it (field position, offensive woes) than just the defense. But will we see less "feast or famine" and more "unleash the Bears of war?"
4) Do we have a nose tackle?
Derrick Hill was one of the unsung mainstays of last year's defense. When he was limited with injury, our ability to hold up to the point of attack really suffered. Both of the guys next in line (Kendrick Payne, Aaron Tipoti) had off-season shoulder surgery. It's unknown whether uber-frosh Moala is ready to contribute immediately.
3) Are we set at safety?
Chris Conte's stellar play last year was like found money. The other safety position was somewhat inconsistent. Cattouse, Campbell, and Moncrease all have experience, but none of them has offered consistent playmaking. Coach Pendergast's aggressive scheme really depends on that last line of defense to be rock solid. Will the returning seniors provide veteran leadership, or will Avery Walls be too good to keep off the field?
2) Which of the young guys will demand time in the secondary?
I'm not saying "if" or "will." We have very little experienced depth at the corner position. With so many spread offenses in the Pac-12, it's a given that we're going to rely on some very inexperienced backs in our nickel and dime packages. Can Coach Ambrose get the young guys ready to play?
1) Will a dominant pass-rusher emerge?
Who's going to step up and fill Cameron Jordan's shoes? Will we finally discover that Zach Follett-like threat off the edge? Most of our sacks last year came from scheme (blitzes); do we have anyone who can beat guys one on one and really put pressure on the offense?
Top 5 Issues for the Specialists
5) Can Bryan Anger become a consistent weapon of field position domination?
The potential is there. We've seen it. We know it. But can he do it every time and in critical situations?
4) Who's going to play special teams?
With depth issues at key positions on both sides of the ball, will we play our starters on special teams or rely exclusively on backups?
3) With the Hurdlin' Houdini (Jeremy Ross) moving on to the pros, who will emerge as the new returners?
It looks like Keenan Allen for punts, Coleman Edmunds for kickoffs. Will any of the newcomers demand snaps here?
2) In Genyk Year Two, will our coverage teams improve?
As happy as we all were with the departure of Aaaaalllllaammaaar, the stats say our coverage teams were still somewhat woeful. This phase of the game has been more bane than boon - can we finally turn that around?
1) Do we have anyone who can make a field goal with the game on the line?
'Nuff said here.
With some many unknowns heading into this year, any projections will have to be tempered with reasonable expectations.
I think both Coach Tedford and the players have been quietly seething all off-season and are ready to prove that last year was an outlier. The defense should be solid enough to keep us in most games. Whether the offense can hold up their end depends on whether Coach M can put together a workable line with somewhat tenuous depth. More so than most years, we are really vulnerable to injuries at key positions. Even if it all comes together, the fact remains that new quarterbacks in the Pac-12 rarely burst out of the gates without experiencing some growing pains. I think that we'll eke out a 7 win season, perhaps 8 with some un-Bearlike good fortune, and go bowling again.
Okay, Cal fans. Let's do this thing. What other issues do you see for this team? Post them below in the comments. Go Bears!
***This post was sponsored by the US Marine Corp. To all who served or presently serve, thank you and be safe***